How to Be a Corporate Athlete

As I’ve ramped up my training for my Ironman this summer, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be an athlete. They don’t just exercise, they train. They don’t eat, they fuel. They don’t just race, they compete. They don’t just rest, they recover. All critical parts of being a world-class athlete. So how can we apply these same concepts to the business world and create corporate athletes?

I already know most of you think like athletes in terms of growth – you want to improve day after day and are always working on that next goal. But what really sets athletes apart is not the training, the competition, the fueling… it’s the recovery. We’ve got to start thinking like athletes who put extreme focus on recovery – emotional, physical, mental, social, professional, and spiritual recovery.

Remember, all gains are made in recovery. Have you ever seen a cyclist after a big competition? They will literally lay down, legs out straight, and not move and sometimes barely walk before or after a race. And when you break down muscle fibers during intense exercise, they rebuild themselves stronger during your recovery periods in order to be prepared for the next intense session.

The same can be applied to your business. Entrepreneurs, leaders, business owners all work extremely hard, but too few of them are making time for recovery. Without recovery, you’ll break. Now, this doesn’t mean you have to take weeks off at a time and completely unplug. In fact, too much recovery is bad for you. Think about it – sleeping 15 hours a day will hurt your body and emotional fitness. But on the flip side, too little sleep, 3-4 hours, is bad for you too. You’ve got to find the sweet spot. The optimal amount of recovery time will vary slightly from person to person, but we must make time for recovery of our minds, our souls, and our bodies. This recovery time will in turn make us stronger and prepare us for the day ahead. Remember, after an intense day at the office, you must recover so the cells in our minds can recover and rebuild in order to handle the next big stimuli (i.e. problem). Think of it as a staircase. You step up (intense session which breaks down your mind/body), then there is a flat landing (recovery session). This repeats over and over again on your way up the stairs (growth). As you recover, each step becomes easier and your growth will start to compound.

So, the key is to incorporate recovery points throughout your day. Here are a few examples:

  • Sleep 7-9 hours each night (which means you’ll have to say no to things at night in order to go to bed early – nothing good happens after 8:30pm anyway!)
  • Take 5-10 minutes every 90 minutes to clear your mind, breathe, meditate, do some pushups or handstands, whatever will clear your mind in order for you to recover and refocus
  • In the middle of the day, take 20-30 minutes and breathe, read a book, meditate, go for a walk
  • Get up an hour early to start your day with meditation, journaling, reading, thinking
  • Add 30-45 minutes of daily exercise – just get moving! Run, walk, dance, swim, do yoga or martial arts, hike, chop wood . Just do something that creates energy within your body. This is where clarity comes from.
  • Take a vacation (even a long weekend), take time off and get out of your daily routine

Start small. You don’t need to master recovery in one day. Start by taking a 10 minute break and walking around your office or turn your chair away from your computer screen and practice deep breathing. Just stop and take action. You will start to feel the effects of these recovery periods almost immediately. Once you start with these small recovery points, you’ll eventually start adding more recovery time to your life.

As a leader, you’ve got to take this one step further. My Ironman training coach, John Spinney, always likes to remind me that his number one job when coaching professional athletes is to manage recovery. It’s his job to know when to make the stop. Just like John manages his athletes, you must actively manage the recovery of your team members. Create daily recover periods for everyone. Push your team hard, push for the results, but allow for recovery time. Take a group walk, do 10 jumping jacks on the hour every hour, have a dance party a 3 o’clock in the afternoon. Build these recovery habits for yourself and your team and you’ll be building a big life and big business faster and more effectively.

Athletes and corporate athletes have the mind set that if they aren’t making large enough gains or gains at all that they need to put more stress on there body (i.e. work harder) which then puts you into a vicious cycle of less recovery and poorer results. In order to get that pop or jump in fitness (or life) we need to recover so that when we are working we are giving it 100%. There should be no gray area. You’re either on or you’re off. You are either fully engaged or strategically disengaged.

To be a corporate athlete, you must take time for recovery. Recovery equals results.

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